Loss of microbial diversity in soils is coincident with reductions in some specialized functions

Brajesh K. Singh, Christopher Quince, Catriona A. Macdonald, Amit Khachane, Nadine Thomas, Waleed Abu Al-Soud, Søren J. Sørensen, Zhili He, Duncan White, Alex Sinclair, Bill Crooks, Jizhong Zhou, Colin D. Campbell

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233 Citations (Scopus)


Summary: Loss of microbial diversity is considered a major threat because of its importance for ecosystem functions, but there is a lack of conclusive evidence that diversity itself is reduced under anthropogenic stress, and about the consequences of diversity loss. Heavy metals are one of the largest, widespread pollutant types globally, and these represent a significant environmental stressor for terrestrial microbial communities. Using combined metagenomics and functional assays, we show that the compositional and functional response of microbial communities to long-term heavy metal stress results in a significant loss of diversity. Our results indicate that even at a moderate loss of diversity, some key specialized functions (carried out by specific groups) may be compromised. Together with previous work, our data suggest disproportionate impact of contamination on microbes that carry out specialized, but essential, ecosystem functions. Based on these findings, we propose a conceptual framework to explicitly consider diversity of functions and microbial functional groups to test the relationship between biodiversity and soil functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2408-2420
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014

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